Six Golden Rules for Making Money

by David · 1 comment

making moneyThis is a guest post by Bob James, The Mighty Copywriter.

Showman P.T. Barnum published a little book in 1880 titled Art of Money Getting. In it, he shared his “Golden Rules for Making Money.” Many of his rules apply today, including these six.

1. Advertise Your Business

If you want to get rich, “Be careful to advertise,” Barnum says.

“If a man has got goods for sale and he don’t advertise them in some way, the chances are that some day the sheriff will do it for him,” Barnum warns.

But advertising alone isn’t enough.

You have to advertise a lot, Barnum insists. Like knowledge, a little advertising is “a dangerous thing.”

“Your object in advertising is to make the public understand what you have got to sell, and if you have not the pluck to keep advertising until you have imparted that information, all the money you have spent is lost.”

2. Don’t Get above Your Business

You can strive to be excellent. Or you can strive to make money.

You cannot do both.

“The great ambition should be to excel all others engaged in the same occupation,” Barnum says.

Focusing on a fat bottom line is getting above your business. It guarantees you’ll occupy a place below competitors.

Focusing on excellence is sticking to your business. It guarantees you’ll attract a lot of customers.

“Americans are too superficial,” Barnum writes. “They are striving to get rich quickly, and do not generally do their business as substantially and thoroughly as they should. But whoever excels all others in his own line, if his habits are good and his integrity undoubted, cannot fail to secure abundant patronage, and the wealth that naturally follows. Let your motto then always be ‘Excelsior,’ for by living up to it there is no such word as fail.”

3. Read the Newspapers

“Always take a trustworthy newspaper, and thus keep thoroughly posted in regard to the transactions of the world,” Barnum says.

The businessperson who doesn’t read every day “is cut off from his species.”

“In these days of telegraphs and steam,” Barnum writes, “many important inventions and improvements in every branch of trade are being made, and he who don’t consult the newspapers will soon find himself and his business left out in the cold.”

4. Be Polite and Kind to Your Customers

“Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in a business,” Barnum writes. “Large stores, gilt signs, flaming advertisements will all prove unavailing if you or your employees treat your patrons abruptly.”

Politeness begins with fair pricing, Barnum says.

“Men who drive sharp bargains with their customers, acting as if they never expected to see them again, will not be mistaken. They will never see them again as customers. People don’t like to pay and get kicked also.”

Civility shows in how a business treats not just friendly customers, but the customers from hell.

Barnum tells of an employee who wanted to punch a rude customer.

“He is the man who pays, while we receive,” Barnum told the employee. “You must, therefore, put up with his bad manners.”

The employee agreed—and asked for a raise.

5. Use the Best Tools

The “tools” Barnum means are the ones who leave each night in the elevator.

“You cannot have too good tools to work with, and there is no tool you should be so particular about as living tools,” he writes.

Which employees make the best tools?

The ones who are curious.

The curious employee is the best because “he learns something every day, and you are benefited by the experience he acquires,” Barnum says.

“He is worth more to you this year than last, and he is the last man you should part with.”

6. Let Hope Predominate, But Be Not Too Visionary

Management consultants and business writers love to quote young CEOs who insist they’re about to disrupt the universe.

But, for every 30 year-old billionaire, there are a million visionaries who chase barmy ideas. Worse, they chase too many.

I think they all suffer from a bad case of entrepreneurial ADD, complicated by an impulse to become the next Mark Zuckerberg.

Without doubt, success derives from a good idea. But much more than that, it demands focus.

Barnum asks business people to think big, but stick to the knitting. Barnum wrote:

“Many persons are always kept poor, because they are too visionary. Every project looks to them like certain success, and therefore they keep changing from one business to another, always in hot water, always ‘under the harrow.’ The plan of ‘counting the chickens before they are hatched’ is an error of ancient date, but it does not seem to improve by age.”

Bob James works full time as the vice president of marketing for a fast-moving technology firm based in the Washington, DC area. When there’s time to spare, he is available to discerning clients for freelance assignments. Learn more at

David is Social Caffeine’s acting editor. He’s British, but we don’t hold that against him.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

The JackB January 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm

The comment about newspapers caught my eye. I know some business people who consider themselves to be too busy for newspapers and magazines of any sort.

I sometimes wonder what opportunities are missed because they don’t allow themselves to be exposed to them.


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